Common Scams in Vietnam: Beware of Scam Tricks When Traveling

Vietnam is a captivating country known for its stunning landscapes, vibrant culture, and friendly people. However, like any popular tourist destination, it’s essential to be aware of common scams that can tarnish your travel experience. This blog post will delve into some of the most prevalent scams in Vietnam, providing you with the knowledge and tools to safeguard yourself and enjoy a safe and enjoyable trip.

Fake Taxi Scams in Vietnam

One of the most common scams encountered by tourists in Vietnam is the “fake taxi” scam. These scams can take various forms, leading unwary travelers to overpay or even be robbed.

Unlicensed Taxis and Price Gouging

Unlicensed taxis often operate without meters and charge exorbitant prices, especially for tourists, particularly at airports, train stations, and popular tourist spots. They may also take you on a longer route than necessary to increase the fare.

Here are some tips to avoid falling victim to this scam:

  • Choose licensed taxis: Look for legitimate taxis with clearly visible license plates and company logos.
  • Use reputable ride-hailing apps: In Vietnam, services like Grab and SM Xanh taxi offer safe and affordable alternatives to traditional taxis.
  • Negotiate prices beforehand: If you choose to take a street taxi, make sure you negotiate the fare before entering the vehicle.
  • Ask for a receipt: Request a receipt after the ride to have proof of the fare in case of any disputes.

Fake Taxi Drivers and Stolen Belongings

Another variation of the fake taxi scam involves fake taxi drivers. These individuals may pose as legitimate taxi drivers to gain the trust of tourists. They might then lead you to a desolate area or divert you to a fake hotel, where they can rob you. Be extra cautious if a taxi driver tries to steer you away from your intended destination, especially if they offer a seemingly “good deal.”

Here’s how to protect yourself:

  • Avoid taxis that approach you unsolicited: Be wary of drivers who flag you down or try to entice you with cheap fares.
  • Check the taxi’s registration: Make sure the license plates and company details are clearly visible and match the taxi company you’re looking for.
  • Trust your instincts: If you feel uncomfortable or suspicious about a driver, don’t hesitate to decline their services.

Overcharging at Tourist Attractions

Vietnam is home to many magnificent attractions, but unfortunately, some vendors within these sites may try to overcharge tourists for goods and services.

Overpriced Souvenirs and Food Stalls

Souvenir stalls at popular tourist attractions often inflate their prices for foreign visitors. Tourists are often unaware of the actual cost of these items and may end up paying significantly more than locals. Food stalls near tourist sites can also engage in overcharging tactics. While local street food is generally affordable, vendors near tourist attractions may inflate their rates for tourists.

Here’s how to avoid overpaying:

  • Research prices in advance: Before visiting a tourist site, browse online forums or travel blogs to get an idea of typical prices for souvenirs and food items.
  • Visit local markets: You can often find similar souvenirs at much lower prices in local markets, away from the tourist trap areas.
  • Negotiate with vendors: Don’t be afraid to negotiate prices with vendors, especially for souvenirs.
  • Be mindful of “tourist-specific” menus: Some food stalls may have a separate “tourist menu” with inflated prices. Ask for the regular menu or observe what locals are ordering.

Entrance Fees and Hidden Charges

Some tourist sites might charge additional fees beyond the entrance fee. These extra fees can be for things like photos, audio guides, or locker rentals. These fees may not be explicitly communicated, and tourists may be caught off guard by these additional charges.

Here’s what you can do:

  • Check online for information on entry fees and extra charges: Most tourist sites have information about entrance fees on their websites, TripAdvisor, or other travel platforms.
  • Purchase your tickets in advance: This can often be cheaper than buying them at the entrance, and you can avoid queuing.
  • Inquire about additional fees upfront: Don’t assume you’re covered by the entrance fee. Ask explicitly if there are any extra charges for services or activities.

Counterfeit Goods and Shopping Scams

Vietnam is notorious for its abundance of counterfeit goods. Although there are many legitimate shops selling genuine items, tourists need to be cautious when shopping, especially in tourist areas.

Fake Designer Goods and Technology

Counterfeit goods, particularly designer bags, watches, and electronics, are widespread in Vietnam. These goods are often sold at significantly lower prices than genuine items, enticing tourists into buying them. The quality of counterfeits can vary greatly, but it’s generally poor and can quickly break down or malfunction.

Here’s how to avoid buying fakes:

  • Shop at reputable stores: Choose stores with a good reputation and positive reviews from other tourists.
  • Be wary of prices that are too good to be true: If a designer bag is being sold for a drastically lower price than you’d expect, it’s likely a counterfeit.
  • Check for authenticity labels: Genuine goods often have specific labels, tags, or markings. Ask questions about the item’s origin and authenticity.
  • Avoid haggling excessively: A ridiculously low price can indicate a counterfeit product.

“Fake Diamond” Scams

Another common scam involves convincing tourists to buy so-called “diamonds” that turn out to be worthless imitations. Street vendors may offer a “deal” and then attempt to pressure you into buying a seemingly valuable gemstone. However, these stones are usually cheap glass or crystal, which can be easily identified with a simple test.

Here’s how to protect yourself:

  • Don’t buy gemstones from street vendors: Purchase diamonds or other precious stones only from reputable jewelers.
  • Ask for a certificate of authenticity: A reputable jeweler should be able to provide a certificate confirming the authenticy of the gemstone.
  • Don’t be pressured into buying: If a vendor is pressuring you or giving you a hard time, walk away.

Motorbike Rental Scams

Renting a motorbike in Vietnam can be a fun and convenient way to explore the country at your own pace. However, it’s essential to be aware of rental scams that can leave you out of pocket.

Damage Deductions and Hidden Fees

Motorbike rental companies often have hidden fees or charge excessive damage deductions. They may try to claim minor scratches or dents as pre-existing damage, even if you didn’t cause them. They may also charge a daily fee for helmets, despite claiming it was included in the initial price.

Here are some tips to avoid falling victim to these scams:

  • Inspect the motorbike thoroughly: Before signing the rental agreement, carefully inspect the motorbike for any existing damage. Take photos of all scuffs, scratches, or dents and ensure they are documented on the rental agreement.
  • Read the rental contract carefully: Thoroughly read the terms and conditions of the rental agreement to understand the damage deduction policy, fuel costs, and any other hidden fees.
  • Negotiate beforehand: Don’t be afraid to negotiate the rental price and damage deductions before agreeing to the contract.
  • Get a receipt: Ask for a receipt after paying to have proof of the rental agreement in case of any disputes.

Stolen Motorbike Scams

In some cases, rental companies may provide a motorbike that has been reported stolen, leaving you responsible for its recovery.

To minimize this risk:

  • Rent from reputable companies: Choose well-established rental companies with positive reviews from other travelers.
  • Take photos of the motorbike’s registration papers: This can be helpful in case of any issues with the police.
  • Keep your personal belongings secure: Don’t leave valuables on the motorbike, and always lock it securely when leaving it unattended.

Pickpocketing and Bag Snatching

As in any tourist-heavy location, petty theft, pickpocketing, and bag snatching are a concern in Vietnam. These crimes are more common in busy areas, especially in crowded markets, public transport, and tourist attractions.

Staying Vigilant and Aware of Surroundings

It’s crucial to be vigilant and aware of your surroundings at all times. Avoid displaying your belongings ostentatiously, and keep valuable items like your phone, wallet, and passport close to your body and concealed under your clothing.

To protect your belongings:

  • Keep valuables close: Secure your wallet, phone, and passport in your front pockets or a secure bag worn across your body.
  • Be aware of your surroundings: Pay attention to your surroundings, especially in crowded areas.
  • Use reputable money belts and bags: Consider using a money belt or a secure travel bag that’s difficult to access for thieves.
  • Don’t use your phone in public: Avoid using your phone in crowded areas, especially if you’re holding it in your hands.

Distraction Tactics

Thieves often use distractions to target tourists. They may try to distract you with a question, a spilled drink, or a sudden commotion, creating an opportunity to pilfer your belongings.

Here’s how to stay safe:

  • Be cautious of strangers approaching you: If someone approaches you with a question or a story, be wary, especially if they’re trying to get you to move away from your belongings.
  • Don’t engage with people who are obviously trying to distract you: If someone spills something on you or creates a commotion near you, make sure your belongings are secure.
  • Be wary of crowds: Be extra cautious in crowds, as a thief could easily slip in and steal from you without you noticing.

Fake Tour Agencies and Booking Scams

Booking tours and accommodations with fake or illegitimate agencies can ruin your trip and leave you with financial losses.

Online Booking Websites and Fake Testimonials

Some websites offer attractive deals on tours, hotels, or flights, but they may use fake testimonials and reviews, making it difficult to assess their legitimacy. These websites often lure tourists in with low prices, but they may deliver low-quality services or even disappear with your money.

Here’s how to protect yourself:

  • Research tour agencies and booking websites thoroughly: Check customer reviews and ratings on websites like TripAdvisor, Google Reviews, and independent travel forums.
  • Look for licenses and registrations: Reputable tour companies and booking agencies should have licenses and registration numbers from the Vietnamese government.
  • Compare prices: If a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is. Compare prices across multiple websites and agencies to see if there are any major discrepancies.
  • Pay using trusted payment methods: Use secure payment methods like PayPal or credit cards, which offer buyer protection in case of scams.

In-Person Scams and Bogus Tour Guides

In tourist areas, street vendors or touts may offer tour packages or hotel bookings that appear to be cheap. However, these deals may lead to a substandard experience, or they may even turn out to be scams where you are led to an unsafe or overpriced location.

Here are some tips:

  • Book through reputable sources: Stick to well-known travel agencies, hotels, or online booking platforms with strong reputations.
  • Be wary of touts and unofficial vendors: If someone approaches you offering a “deal” on the street, it’s best to politely decline.
  • Double-check the information: If you do agree to a tour booked through an unofficial source, double-check the details with another reputable agency or online platform.

Gemstone Scams

Vietnam is known for its beautiful gemstones, but this industry has unfortunately become intertwined with various scams.

“Free Gemstone” Scams

This scam typically involves a “friendly” local who offers you a “free gemstone” or a “tour of a gem factory.” They may be very persuasive, but their true objective is to lure you to a “gemstone shop” where they’ll pressure you into buying overpriced or fake gems.

To avoid this scam:

  • Decline “free” offers: Never accept “free” gifts or tours from strangers, as they often lead to scams.
  • Stay vigilant in tourist areas: Be cautious of people who approach you unexpectedly, especially in areas known for gem shops.

Hidden Inspection Fees

Another common scam involves hidden inspection fees. The vendor may offer to “inspect” a gemstone for you, claiming it is a rare and valuable find. They then charge a high inspection fee, or they may try to pressure you into buying the stone for a seemingly “bargain” price.

Here’s how to protect yourself:

  • Don’t allow vendors to “inspect” your gems: You can ask for a written appraisal from a reputable gemologist later.
  • Don’t be swayed by “pressure tactics”: Ask for a time to think before making a purchase.

Distraction Scams on the Streets

These scams are designed to distract you so that they can steal your belongings. They often involve a group of people acting out a scenario, such as a staged accident or a fight, to draw your attention.

Staged Accidents and Fights

A group of individuals may purposefully create a distraction, such as a fake accident or a staged fight, to distract you and steal your belongings. They might even try to accuse you of causing the accident or being involved in the fight, further diverting your attention.

Tips for staying safe:

  • Stay aware of your surroundings: Be vigilant about what’s happening around you, especially in crowded areas.
  • Don’t get involved: If you witness a staged accident or fight, don’t engage or offer assistance. Simply walk away and report it to a local authority.

Spilled Drinks and Smells

This scam involves a group of people pretending to accidentally spill something on you or near you, covering you with pungent-smelling substances. While you’re distracted, an accomplice can steal your belongings.

Here’s how to protect yourself:

  • Be mindful of your surroundings: Avoid places where there might be a large crowd or situations that are easily manipulated.

ATM and Credit Card Fraud

Be cautious when using ATMs or credit cards in Vietnam. There are several scams targeting tourists.

Skimming Devices and Fake ATMs

Skimming devices can be attached to ATMs to steal your card information. These devices are typically small and discreet, making them difficult to spot. Some ATMs may be fake, designed to look like legitimate bank machines. When you insert your card, they capture your information, leading to fraudulent transactions.

Here’s how to protect yourself:

  • Check ATMs for signs of tampering: Before inserting your card, inspect the ATM carefully. Look for any loose parts, suspicious attachments, or anything that looks out of place.
  • Cover your PIN: Always cover your PIN when entering it into the ATM.
  • Use ATMs in safe locations: Avoid using ATMs in isolated areas, especially after dark.

Card Cloning and Fraudulent Transactions

Thieves might attempt to steal your credit card information or clone your card to make fraudulent transactions. They may try to distract you or simply access your card without your knowledge.

Here are some tips for staying safe:

  • Keep your card secure: Always keep your credit card in a secure place, and don’t expose it to strangers.
  • Monitor your transactions: Regularly check your credit card statements for any unauthorized transactions.
  • Report suspicious activity: If you suspect your card has been compromised, report it to your bank immediately.

Fake Police Officer Scams

In some instances, individuals may impersonate police officers to target tourists.

Illegal Checkpoints and Bribes

Fake police officers may set up fake checkpoints on the road or approach you at popular tourist spots. They may then demand to see your documents, such as your passport or visa, and try to extort money from you.

To protect yourself:

  • Be wary of police officers stopping you on the road: If you’re stopped by a police officer, ask for their badge number and identification. You can always request to call the local police station to verify their identity.
  • Don’t surrender cash for any reason: Real police officers won’t demand money unless there’s a valid reason, such as a fine for breaking a traffic law.

Fake Arrest Scenarios

A fake police officer may accuse you of a crime you didn’t commit and demand a bribe to avoid arrest. If this happens, don’t agree to any bribe.

Here’s what to do if you are accused:

  • Demand to see identification: Ask for the officer’s identification and badge number.
  • Call the police station: You can call the local police station to verify the officer’s identity.
  • Document the incident: If you feel unsafe, try to photograph the officer’s badge or take note of their details.
  • Contact your embassy or consulate: If you are arrested, contact your embassy or consulate for assistance.

Conclusion

While Vietnam is a beautiful and welcoming country, tourists need to be aware of common scams and take precautions to avoid them. By being vigilant, understanding these scams, and taking preventative measures, you can protect yourself and ensure a safer and more enjoyable travel experience. It’s crucial to remember that being aware of your surroundings, practicing common sense, and avoiding situations that feel uncomfortable or suspicious are essential safeguards.

Remember to trust your instincts. If a situation feels off, it’s best to err on the side of caution and walk away. By staying informed and vigilant, you can navigate Vietnam’s diverse and enticing landscape without falling victim to scams.